What Distinguishes Creatives From Cynics

The difference according to Light from Distant Stars author, Shawn Smucker.


I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Lancaster on a frigid winter day. A sharp wind blows down Prince Street, driving people indoors and making the naked maple branches quiver. Every time the café door swings open, a heavy blast of winter air shoots through, and everyone shrinks further inside their coats.

If you look closely at the wild branches waving outside the café window, you’ll notice tiny red buds, only weeks from bursting into green. Somehow, the tree believes that spring will come, no matter today’s temperature—no matter the lines of snow sitting in the shadows. The tree doesn’t take its current, discouraging circumstances into consideration. It recognizes that the days are getting longer. It trusts that, snow or no snow, spring will be here in no time.

These days preceding the turn of the season invite us to exercise in belief. And belief is what writing is all about. I believe that I have what it takes to tell the story well. I believe that my story will find its way to readers, that it will connect with someone in a meaningful way when the season is right.

Belief, and especially self-belief, is a funny thing. For me, it comes and goes like the wind. One day, I’ll be writing along, confident and excited to see what will come of it. The next day, I’m on the verge of crumbling under the weight of self-doubt and uncertainty.

What does it take to be an author? Above almost anything else, being an author takes belief.

You have to be willing to keep going after a day (or a week, or a month) when the words are hard to come by. You have to be willing to believe that, somehow, this pile of 50,000 or 60,000 or 100,000 words will come together in a meaningful way. In Ann Lamotte’s book, Bird by Bird, she writes, "This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be."

Sometimes belief looks a bit like naivety or foolish optimism. If you’re young, they’ll say you haven’t been around the block enough times. If you’re old, they’ll twirl their index finger around their temple. But for the creative person, belief is crucial and beautiful in its own way. The world has become a cynical place, all too ready to tell you what can’t be done and why. It is in the face of this cynicism that we write, believing that something will come of our work when the season is right.

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Shawn Smucker is the author of The Day the Angels Fell, The Edge of Over There, Once We Were Strangers and Light from Distant Stars. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at www.shawnsmucker.com.